What Makes Valentine’s Day So Toxic?

13 Feb 2019

What kind of a relationship have you had with Valentine’s Day? And what useful information can that provide about your own relationship beliefs but also about the way that our culture views love and romance? That is what we shall be exploring in this culture. 

When I look back at my own life, from the time I was about 13 on, I have mostly had a fairly unhealthy relationship with Valentine’s Day.  With the benefit of hindsight, it was, on the whole, a tad toxic and codependent.  But I don’t suppose that I was alone in that.  

By the age of 13, the adolescent me had cottoned on to the fact that romantic love was an area in which I had to prove myself worthy.  Valentine’s Day either would or would not validate me.  If I received at least one card, that would be a clear statement of my worthiness.  I would have proof that I had, at last, overcome my childhood neglect and entered into the ranks of The Lovable.  (Especially, if cards arrived from mysterious lovesick swains too shy to reveal their identity…) If, on the other hand, I did not, that was a sorry reflection on my value as an Apprentice Woman. 

The Honorable Society of Apprentice Lovable Women

Let’s just say that no mailman ever damaged his back hefting the heavy load of my Valentine’s Day mail – especially over the next few years.  

When St Valentine finally got his act together, found my address and did the honorable thing, I heaved a huge sigh of gratification and relief.  Hallelujah! I had been successfully co-opted into the Honorable Society of Apprentice Lovable Women.  (How toxic is that??!!)

Sure, I already knew that my then boyfriend and Valentine, Bad Boy Mk 1 was a very bad long-term prospect indeed.  However, it felt so nice to have joined the Couples United, that I was not in a rush to walk away.  (I shan’t be awarding any prizes to my younger self for that effort. But I know that I was hardly the only one.)

The relationship with Bad Boy Mk 1 ended no less badly than it should have done.  ( To my shame, I opted for a kind of old world “ghosting” that worked quite well.  Bad Boy Mk 1 had a big enough ego to get the message  and move on, sporting his “broken heart” as an excellent seduction tool.)

After another few years of an indifferent on-off relationship with Valentine’s Day, I met Bad Boy Mk 2, otherwise known as The Wasband. In an ideal world, that would have transformed my relationship with Valentine’s Day.  In reality, of course, it simply took a bad relationship and made it much, much more toxic. 

How an abuser does Valentine’s Day

At best, in the early years together, the wasband went through the motions reluctantly, with a noticeable lack of grace.  At worst, he used  this major event in the Abuser’s Calendar to show me how unworthy I was of his love – and, indeed, anyone’s love.

Put simply, BAD BOY 2, aka The Wasband,  sank to the challenge of Valentine’s Day.  He used Valentine’s Day to tell me what a failure I was as a partner, a wife, and a woman.  He would, routinely buy the card and the flowers, book the restaurant and then “celebrate” the occasion by starting a very abusive argument. 

As a result, I became increasingly Valentine’s Day codependent – embittered and despairing.  That is, after all, what consistent rejection and disappointment does to a person. I kept banging my head against the Valentine’s Day wall.  Next year would surely be different.  (It never was.  It was just slightly differently bad.)

After the divorce, there followed  more years of Valentines-lessness.  Then I met my lovely partner and…

I’ve shared this potted account of my relationship with Valentine’s Day simply because Valentine’s Day is about so much more than the commercial event.  Of course, the day is a massive money-spinner for anyone who has the wit to sell anything Valentine’s Day related.  But we need to look beyond that to how Valentine’s Day pedals a toxic idea of love – to the point where I would argue that Valentine’s Day has become quite abusive in its own right.  

What makes Valentine’s Day so toxic

Since meeting my lovely partner, my relationship with Valentine’s Day has altered significantly. But it has not improved for the reasons outlined below.

Making one day such a big deal

If you love someone as much as a lot of Valentine’s Day cards suggest, why do you need one special day to bring it to their attention?  The art of loving – and living – requires you to live every day like it matters.  It could always be your last, or your loved one’s last.  So, why would you wait until February 14th to tell them, with the aid of overpriced cards and flowers, unnecessary chocolates and a meal in an overcrowded restaurant?

The “You make me happy” message.

I have a very bad allergy to the standard message that “You make me so happy.” It is never one person’s job to make another person happy. 

Happiness is something that we each have to do for ourselves.  

I am hugely happy around my partner not least because he has a sunny temperament.  He also never does anything to deprive me of my happiness.  However, I, a natural depressive, have had to learn how to “do” happiness for myself.  Nobody has the right to foists the bits of their emotional world that they dislike and/or struggle with onto someone else. That is, basically, what abusers do when they foist their anger and toxic feelings onto you, furious that you cannot make their inner and out world perfect.

The codependent piece

  I have a pathological hatred for the whole, “I could never live without your love” rhetoric. That sits nicely with a toxic codependency.  I’ll admit that it inevitably brings out my neglected child’s hyper-self-reliant, Grow-A-Pair response.  Nobody gets given that choice. You may have to live without. One attribute of emotionally healthy people is that they manage to maintain a full enough love tank – not least because they are good at storing what they have. 

Sick-making is not healthy

Most of the serious Valentines send me rushing for the sick bucket.  Much as I believe in being playful and connecting with the inner child, I have an issue with cutesy teddy bears and small child imagery.  I don’t want my partner to be my teddy bear any more than he wants me to be his Barbie doll. We are both much more interested in a love that is a safe haven in Life’s difficulties than a retreat to the false security of the nursery. Loving another adult is not a return to infancy. 

The objectification of raunchiness

I’ll admit that I do enjoy some of the raunchy Valentines.  When they are laugh-out-loud funny, I enjoy them. But then the same question arises, why should they be kept for just one day a year? 

However, iff they are just plain crude, they irritate the hell out of me. What do you really get, or give, by sending an exclusively sexual message? Being seen, first and foremost, as a sexual partner may not help you to feel lovable as a whole, complex, human being.  Our culture tells us that if we get the sex right first, the rest will naturally follow on.  But, more commonly, when we present ourselves as sexual partners, we expose ourselves to predators who are not interested in discovering the person that lies behind the sexual complicity.  

Valentine’s Day mirrors toxic views of love

To sum up, for me, Valentine’s Day is so toxic because it mirrors so much of what is wrong and unhealthy in society’s view of love.  Overall, it does so much to trivialise precious human beings and a precious connection.  This year, whether or not you receive a shelf full of Valentines, a florist’s supply of red roses, and consume a 95 course tasting menu, remember that you are profoundly lovable.  i hope you will  hold that thought and enjoy Valentine’s Day as much as the days around it.   


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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